a regular feature at The Spin Off … Friday is Poetry Day!
Ashleigh’s poem here
a regular feature at The Spin Off … Friday is Poetry Day!
Ashleigh’s poem here
Jennifer Compton, Mr Clean & The Junkie Mākaro Press, 2015
Jennifer Compton’s new poetry collection, Mr Clean & The Junkie, is a fabulous read – the kind of book you devour in one gulp. It is a long narrative poem in four parts with a coda. Each section is written in couplets – shortish lines that deliver the perfect rhythm for the occasion. This is a 1970s love story set in Sydney (and briefly NZ), yet it is a love story with a difference. It reminded me a bit of Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author, in that the stitching is on show — how you tell/show the story, along with the choices you make, is as much a part of the narrative as plot, characters and so. The difference here, though, it is like a poem in search of a character in search of a film director in search of character in search of a poem. Self-reflexive behaviour on the part of authors has been done to death in recent decades, so it has the potential to appear lack lustre. Not in this case. I loved the way the poetry is a series of smudges. A bit like the way life imitates cinema as much as cinema imitates life.
I spent ages on the first page. It got thoughts rolling. I loved the voice. I loved the intrusion of the director (we figure that out as we read) and I loved the way I kept putting the poem in the role of the camera (long shots to gain wider perspective or distance, tracking shots, surprising angles, refreshing views) or the editing suites with jump cuts and smooth transitions. Or sitting back and admiring the composition within the frame. Or tropes. The slow reveal.
The two main characters (My Clean and The Junkie) are definitely in search of flesh and blood, yet you can also see this as genre writing – a narrative poem that is part thriller, part whodunit, part crime writing. Then again it is part feminist critique and part postmodern explosion.
Here is a sample from the first page:
Our hero is discovered sleeping.
We find him as the camera finds him.
Our hero is dreaming of the white mouse
cleaning his whiskers in extreme close-up.
As he dreams we snoop about his habitat.
Everything is there for a reason and we will
see it from another angle before we reach The End.
I imagine ambient sound during the credit sequence.
The mouse begins to run the wheel because
the wheel is there under his paws.
The slow zoom out reveals the wheel is in a cage,
And fade to the floor-to-ceiling, slatted blinds,
looming over our man asleep on his futon.
What do they look like? Bars.
The writing is tight. The plot pulls you along at break-neck pace and then stops you in your tracks as the director’s voice pulls you out of plot and character with wry stumbling blocks. Little flurries of sidetracks. Or how to proceed? The central idea’s beguiling (poem version of a film version of a love story), the dry humour infectious (after a curtain is pulled back to reveal a spectacular view of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and Opera House: ‘If you’ve got it/ flaunt it.’). But there is poetry at work here. It is there in the cadence of each line, the end word and the rhythm. It is there in the use of tropes that arch across the length of the book in little delicious echoes. The caged mouse on the wheel stands in for the symbolic cage of the hero (his father’s expectations and life choices). Most of all, however, the poetry sparks and flicks in the white space; the bits that are left on the editor’s floor or the angles that the director chooses not to show. Things are hinted at. Significant events that give flesh to character are caught within a line or two. That white space, that economy, is what gives this long poem its magnetic pull.
The collection is released as part of Mākaro Press’s 2015 Hoopla series. The beautifully designed books share design features and size, and include a new poet, mid-career poet and late-career poet. The other poets this year are: Carolyn McCurdie (Bones in the Octagon) and Bryan Walpert (Native bird). Jennifer is an award-winning poet and playwright who has lived in Australia since the 1970s. She has won both The Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry (This City, Otago University Press, 2011) and The Katherine Mansfield Award.
Reading Mr Clean and The Junkie is entertaining, diverting, challenging, laughter inducing. How wonderful that a poetry collection can do all of this. I loved it!
When my father made love to my mother
and their salts and foams seethed and lifted
so that a child washed up on their tides,
perhaps they held each other
in an old rotting villa with cracks and gaps
that let the rooms’ winter breath
unravel along the street
like spider silk adrift on the air.
Perhaps outside that house
an untrimmed, straggling macrocarpa
tossed in the wind like a woman in fever sheets
and the clouded sky came close and tight
as a fist screwing a lid on a jar
while nearby the city’s river cried deep in its bed,
birds circled but found they couldn’t alight;
as a chill hide of questions
grew a stubborn lichen
across the corroding, rented roof.
For there are days when the human heart
feels like spit rubbed in mud,
the mind a junk room
of broom handles and wheel-less prams,
must-stink chair nobody will sit in,
little black fly heads
sprinkled in a corner web,
ear bones of vanished mice,
single bits of faded jigsaws,
carpet littered with broken envelopes
and even when love creeps close
over the slanting floorboards,
sorrow drifts in with the smell of snow
clustered on its skin.
© Emma Neale
Originally printed in Landfall; appears also in Tender Machines (Otago University Press, 2015).
Author bio: Emma Neale works as an editor. On alternate years, she runs a one-semester poetry workshop at the University of Otago. She has published five novels and five collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Tender Machines (Dunedin: OUP, 2015).
Note from Paula: Usually in my Friday poem slot I have invited poets to write a note about their poem and I have added my own thoughts. Some poets are happy to provide sideways anecdotes or points of origin for their poems; others prefer to let the poems speak for themselves. I have no dogmatic stance on either option. Notes on poems can be utterly fascinating and provide unexpected roads into your reading. I don’t think they ever shut a poem down — as readers, when we press a poem’s start button, anything can happen. So I have decided to make the ‘note’ aspect of my Poem-Friday feature flexible – taken up on a case by case basis.
This poem stalled me. It is the sort of poem I love to write about because it engages every part of my body — my eye, my ear, my heart and my mind. A poetry coup. Yet I wanted the poem to stand in its off-white space on the screen – shimmering, flickering on a cerebral and aural scale. Without my commentary. Intruding static. Yet I can’t help myself. Just a tad. I adore the loving craft of each line, the words and word connections that catch you by surprise, the surprise upheld like an internal beat, the way physical detail judders and then sets you off on memory tangents. At the core, heart.
This poem is the first poem in the book. Read it, and then you can’t wait to devour the poems that follow. Within the next weeks I will post a review.
Today I am clearing my study ready to start writing a book on New Zealand women’s poetry. I am working my way through deadlines (almost done). I have finished my astonishing visit as Writer in Residence at Fairburn School in South Auckland. Still so many books to review and share here. Interviews to do. Friday poems to kick start again.
Thanks to Chris Else, I have borrowed his collections of Landfall, Sport and Takahe before they moves on to a good home. Five wine boxes full — what discoveries will I make within their pages? It is so very exciting and so very helpful when I am not attached to a university. I am full of gratitude.
Then today the most lovely surprise package from Laurence Fearnley who had discovered a collection of poetry books in a second-hand bookshop in Dunedin. I have neither of these books, beautiful much-loved editions that I will treasure. I got goosebumps as I held them. Again I am full of gratitude.
It makes me feel I am part of a very supportive writing community.
I face this project that I am about to start on Monday (full strength) with a mix of nerves, terror, pleasure, doubt, excitement — the way once you start reading and writing anything can happen as you traverse the unexpected, the unfamiliar, the wayward and the illuminating.
I can’t wait.
I loved having this conversation!
Paula Green’s NZ Poetry Shelf is a blog I pop in on regularly. Green claims that she only writes about poetry that she enjoys, which makes her reviews a breathe-easy and pleasurable read. She reliably sniffs out great local poetry, so my interest was roused when she announced that both session guests, Kerry Hines (right) and Leilani Tamu (below), had been subjects for her blog. Hines and Tamu are very different writers. But Green expressed that both drew uncannily similar responses in her reviews. As if to echo the uncanny, when asked to read from their collections, each chose poems with a titular ‘beach’. In both cases, the poems were atmospheric, and anchored to place.
Concept of place features heavily in both writers’ work. It is discussed that place can be temporal as well as spatial, and that place is often about people, politics, and the memories people have of…
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LOUNGE #46 Wednesday 23 September
Old Government House Lounge, UoA City Campus, Princes St and Waterloo Quadrant, 5.30-7 pm
Featuring work in progress by the Masters of Creative Writing class of 2015:
Free entry. Food and drinks for sale in the Buttery. Information Michele Leggott email@example.com or 09 373 7599 ext. 87342. Poster: http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/events/lounge46_poster.pdf
The LOUNGE readings are a continuing project of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc), Auckland University Press and Auckland University English, Drama and Writing Studies, in association with the Staff Common Room Club at Old Government House.
LOUNGE READINGS #45-47: 12 August, 23 September, 21 October 2015